Families with children seeking asylum in the UK are being considered for forced removal to Rwanda, according to a Home Office minister.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told an evidence session at parliament’s women and equalities committee on Wednesday that, while there were no plans to remove unaccompanied child asylum seekers to the east African country, families with children are being considered for removal.
Jenrick said that, while a final decision had not been reached, officials were worried that ruling out a particular group such as families could encourage traffickers to focus on smuggling families rather than single males.
“There’s not necessarily a bar to families being removed to Rwanda,” said Jenrick.
The committee heard that so far just 3.5% of those who have received a Home Office notice of intent that they may be removed to Rwanda are women and no women have so far received removal directions.
Enforced removals of families to other countries happen rarely, according to Dan Hobbs, Home Office director of asylum, protection and enforcement, who also gave evidence to the committee. However, the aim of the Rwanda policy is to forcibly remove those targeted by the Home Office.
The government said they are hoping that Rwanda flights will resume as soon as possible after the ongoing legal proceedings about the lawfulness of forcibly removing asylum seekers to Rwanda have concluded.
The high court found the Rwanda policy to be lawful but has given permission to appeal against certain parts of the judges’ ruling.
Jenrick told the committee that the government is planning to increase the number of migrants who are detained.
“If we want to remove more people from the country, we will need to have a larger detained estate,” he said.
Maria Stephens, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, said: “The Rwanda deal is already a grubby trade in human lives – but to consider deporting families with children there when they have asked the UK for protection is shameful.
“The limited number of families who come to the UK often do so to reunite with relatives, loved ones or a community who are already here so they can rebuild their lives with support. Ministers risk breaking apart these crucial networks and punishing children and adults.”
There has previously been speculation that families are being considered for removal to Rwanda, but so far no asylum seekers have been flown out under the government’s controversial scheme.
The first flight was due to take off on 14 June last year but was grounded after a last-minute intervention from the European court of human rights.
The Guardian reported that Hope Hostel in Kigali, which has been preparing for asylum seeker arrivals from the UK, is building football pitches and basketball courts, and is providing outdoor toys.
The hostel manager, Elisee Kalyango , told the Guardian that children could be among those flown out to his country. He said: “We are ready to handle people of any age.”